Making an Active Historic Church’s History Available Online

The Digital Library of Georgia recently worked with Susan Yarborough to add a collection of documents from Saint Paul’s Church, Augusta, Georgia. Founded in 1750, Saint Paul’s is a parish of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia and the first church and formal institution established in Augusta. The DLG collection includes church registers from 1820 to 1937, minutes of the Vestry from 1855-1923, early church histories, and miscellaneous documents related to the church and diocese history.

Yarborough, chair of the church’s History Committee, notes that Saint Paul’s is still an active church. “Our archives are part of the church’s daily life and play a role in our governance, building maintenance, and even our worship. At the same time, we have a responsibility to the larger community to make available those resources with historical significance.”

“The earliest entries in the oldest Saint Paul’s register are more than two centuries old. Our historic materials are valuable but also fragile. They’ve held up beautifully because they are not regularly handled. Digitization is the best way to make it possible for historians to examine these precious records.”

“The early church registers record baptisms, confirmations, marriages, and funerals of church members, including enslaved and free people of color. Many history queries we get at Saint Paul’s have to do with genealogy. So having the registers hosted by DLG allows genealogists and family historians to go directly to the source. They can also explore more than one family name at a time. Plus, they have almost unlimited access, which would not be possible otherwise.”

“At Saint Paul’s, we are so pleased that DLG saw the potential of this material and awarded us the subgrant to digitize and host it.  Many local institutions do not have the expertise or funding to make their historical documents widely available. I really appreciate the way DLG simplifies the sub-grant application process. They provide guidance with model applications and on-line coaching, and DLG staff are happy to answer questions by phone or email.”

“Best of all is the satisfaction of knowing that Saint Paul’s materials are now freely available to teachers, students, and public library users. DLG helps bridge the digital divide for those who rely on schools and public libraries for their research needs. It is so important for people’s understanding of their lives and worlds to have access to information about their family and community histories.”

Parish register, 1820-1868 (page 50 of PDF)
St. Paul’s Church of Augusta Collection
Holding Institution: St. Paul’s Church (Augusta, Ga.)
https://dlg.usg.edu/record/spcag_spcagc_spc14

Yarborough has selected Page 122 from the Parish Register of Saint Paul’s Church for 1864 (this is page 50 of the PDF available for Parish register, 1820-1868), which shows the baptismal records for Rose, a daughter born to Cyrus and Mary, the slaves of Mrs. Elizabeth Bowen, who is serving as baptismal sponsor. Two rows below is the baptismal record for Elisa Jane Beard (colored), daughter of Thomas P. and Carolina Beard, who were free persons of color. In 1868, Thomas P. Beard would become the first African American from Augusta to be elected to the Georgia House of Representatives.

Further down the same page is the baptismal record of Col. Archibald Willingham Butt (1864-1912), a military aide to Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William H. Taft, who died on the Titanic when it sank. He is recorded as having threatened to kill any man who tried to board the lifeboats before the women and children were rescued. Yarborough adds: “That’s probably folklore, but it is a thrilling story.” Circumstantial evidence suggests that Col. Butt was gay. Augusta’s Butt Memorial Bridge, which routes 15th Street over the Augusta Canal, is dedicated to his memory.

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Materials belonging to historic Saint Paul’s Church, Augusta, Georgia’s oldest congregation, now freely available online

The Digital Library of Georgia has just released a collection of archival documents belonging to Saint Paul’s Church, the oldest church and institution in the city of Augusta and one of the oldest in Georgia. 

The collection, the St. Paul’s Church of Augusta Collection, is available at https://dlg.usg.edu/collection/spcag_spcagc.

Susan Yarborough, chair of the St. Paul’s Church history committee, outlines the church’s presence in Augusta: 

“Founded in 1750, St. Paul’s has a triple life as an active congregation, as a physical space encompassing buildings and a graveyard, and as a historic parish of the Episcopal Church. The oldest identified grave in its graveyard dates to 1783. Past parishioners of Saint Paul’s church include a signer of the U. S. Constitution, five governors of Georgia, six Confederate generals, the namesakes of several Georgia counties, two founding faculty of the Medical College of Georgia, several Augusta mayors, and an owner and an editor of The Augusta Chronicle newspaper.” 

Significant among the church’s materials are:

  • the church’s Vestry minutes for the years 1855-1923 encompass the 73-year period including the Civil War and Reconstruction, World War I, and the church’s destruction by fire in March 1916. The minutes record names of ministers and Vestry members, costs for the building and upkeep of the church and its furnishings, salaries of ministers, organists and sextons, pew rents, donations to charitable institutions, insurance policies, arrangements for special church services, eulogies to people important to the parish, and the efforts to rebuild the church after the fire.
  • With alphabetical indexes, three parish registers spanning the years 1820-1937, including records of marriages, baptisms, confirmations, communications, and burials, with a churchyard map, texts of grave markers, and statistics concerning the rites performed. The parish register from 1820-1868 records marriages, baptisms, confirmations, and burials for roughly 220 enslaved persons, beginning in 1823 and ending in 1865. The enslaved persons denoted in these records were largely house servants, often mixed race, who lived on close terms with their owners. In some cases, the actual houses in which these enslaved persons served their owners still exist, and the addresses are listed in extant city directories of the time. 

Yarborough adds: “The marriage records of these enslaved persons indicate names of the groom, bride, slave owners, minister, and date and location of the ceremony. These enslaved persons’ baptismal records indicate names of infant, mother, father (occasional), slave owner, minister, and baptismal sponsors (mother, slave owner or proxy, or other enslaved persons). Of particular note are multiple births recorded to enslaved mothers.”

Yarborough concludes that  “Information from such entries combined with Richmond County and surrounding counties’ slave inventories, appraisement, and sale records 1785-1865, probate records, and newspaper accounts of slave sales and freedom seekers can assist in tracing pre-Emancipation lines of kinship.”

There are many more materials, including marriage registers, historical extracts, print histories, articles, clippings, booklets, calling cards, and correspondence that account for the church’s early history, church conventions, centennial celebrations, and burials.   

Erick D. Montgomery, the executive director of Historic Augusta, Incorporated, who has regularly touched upon these materials in his work, notes:

“Having these historical materials available through digitization online will make valuable records available to anyone interested in the history of Georgia, Augusta, religion, societal trends, enslaved and free African Americans, genealogical connections, and countless other topics unforeseen.”

Featured images:

A page spread showing the grave marker of Commodore Oliver Bowen (ca. 1740–1800), a naval commander in the American Revolution, buried in Saint Paul’s Church’s graveyard. The image appears between pages 4 and 5 of The Story of St. Paul’s Church, Augusta – Georgia, A.D. 1750-1906, by the Rev. Chauncey Camp Williams, who was Rector of Saint Paul’s from 1877-1906. https://dlg.usg.edu/record/spcag_spcagc_spc10 

Page 122 from the Parish Register of Saint Paul’s Church for 1864, showing the baptismal records for Rose “(colored),” a daughter born to Cyrus and Mary, both persons enslaved by Mrs. Elizabeth Bowen, who is serving as baptismal sponsor. Two rows below is the baptismal record for Elisa Jane Beard “(colored),” daughter of Thomas P. and Carolina Beard, who were free persons of color. In 1868, Thomas P. Beard would become the first African American from Augusta, Georgia, to be elected to the Georgia House of Representatives. https://dlg.usg.edu/record/spcag_spcagc_spc14 

About Saint Paul’s Church  

Saint Paul’s Church is a community of people committed to serving and worshiping Jesus Christ in their current location for over 250 years.  With their roots deeply embedded in the city of Augusta and the surrounding area, they “seek and serve Christ in all persons.”  They are also rooted in their Anglican (Church of England) heritage and are an integral part of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia. Visit their web site at www.saintpauls.org/

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